Russia Confirms Explosion At Former Bioweapons Lab Storing Ebola, Smallpox And Plague

Explosions in dangerous places in Russia seem to a theme in the last few years. The latest one occurred last week according to the brief announcement on September 16 that “a gas cylinder explosion” caused a fire in a reinforced concrete laboratory building near Novosibirsk, in Siberia.

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The complication this time is that the building which serves as a Vector facility for the State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology is a Cold War-era Soviet bioweapons lab that now researches and houses Ebola, Smallpox, and Anthrax.

This Vector is the only place in the world other than the CDC facility in Atlanta, USA, that stockpiles Smallpox. Local firefighter and rescue teams reportedly responded to the explosion before someone realized the implications and according to Russian media, “the situation was quickly upgraded from an ordinary emergency to a major incident.”

The Russian authorities reported that the fire “was eliminated” in an area where “no biological material” was stored, while “one person was injured and the building was not damaged.” Russian state media added that the facility’s head “emphasizing the incident does not pose any biological or any other threat to the population.” But history tells us that this is exactly what would have been announced whatever the outcome.

State media also confirmed that the facility, which is “known for having developed vaccines for Ebola and hepatitis, as well as for studying epidemics and general issues surrounding immunology,” was part of a “now-defunct Soviet biological weapons program,” and that “some of the most dangerous strains—including smallpox, Ebola, anthrax, and certain plagues—are still being kept inside the Institute’s building.”

The Vector facility has been under scrutiny before. Fifteen years ago, a scientist at the same facility passed away after injecting self with an Ebola-laced needle, leading to apprehensions about the safety protocols and standards in place.

More broadly for Russia, this fire incident comes hot on the heels of the deadly nuclear accident that occurred at a Russian military facility on the White Sea in August. That incident killed a minimum of five people and led to worldwide speculation and contradictory reports concerning the extent of the damage and ensuing radiation leaks.

The New York Times reported that, ” this raised concerns that the Kremlin was withholding information about the severity of radioactive contamination caused by the incident.”

There was undoubtedly a fairly blatant campaign to manage the information outflow and misdirect attention by the authorities responsible for containing the media post-event.

It is too early to speculate whether any information is being withheld this time around.